Restaurants energize Chapel Street

The opening of Shake Shack this year was a highlight of the Chapel Street restaurant revitalization.
The opening of Shake Shack this year was a highlight of the Chapel Street restaurant revitalization. Photo by Sara Stalla.

With this year’s openings of Shake Shack and Chipotle, New Haven’s historic Chapel Street is in the midst of a restaurant revitalization.

The opening of Shake Shack last semester and Chipotle last week have spurred excitement among students on campus about the new, local food outlets that now claim Chapel Street in New Haven as their home. Soon to join these restaurants on Chapel are Panera Bread and the historic Richter’s bar. City officials attribute this influx of Chapel Street restaurants to several factors ranging from Gateway Community College’s opening to the regular ebb and flow of city business.

“It’s certainly a large increase,” said Michael Piscitelli, New Haven’s deputy economic development administrator. “We’re starting to see a blend of locally owned restaurants and national chains.”

Chapel Street currently has a roughly 88 percent ground floor occupancy, Piscitelli added.

The first two restaurants to lead the charge, Shake Shack and Chipotle, opened in September and January, respectively. These two restaurants grill hamburgers and wrap burritos just a stone’s throw away from Old Campus. Edwin Bragg, the director of marketing and communications for Shake Shack, said that the restaurant already has regular guests and considers itself a part of the New Haven community.

“It was important for us to be a part of the neighborhood and be around other local restaurants, shops and businesses,” Bragg said, adding that settling on Chapel Street made “perfect sense” both in terms of the restaurant’s proximity to college students and local New Haven residents.

A new addition to the Chapel Street restaurant family, located next door to Shake Shack, is the old Richter’s bar, which is slated to reopen in March, according to Chris Ortwein, the manager of the Economic Prosperity Initiative, a local development organization for the Town Green Special Services District. 990 Chapel St., the spot of the historic Richter’s bar, has been serving drinks to the city of New Haven since before Prohibition, when it was converted into a speakeasy. It has undergone numerous changes in management over the years, the latest of which has yet to be made public. Though it remains unclear who is working to reopen the location, Ortwein confirmed that it will continue to be a food establishment and bar.

Meanwhile, Panera Bread is slated to open at 1048 Chapel St. Panera Bread’s headquarters could not be reached for comment about exactly when the store will open. A permit was also recently filed to reopen the old Hot Tomatoes restaurant location on the corner of Chapel and College at 261 College St., said Andrew Rizzo, New Haven’s building official.

City officials offered several reasons for Chapel Street’s revitalization. Piscitelli noted that Yale and the newly opened Gateway Community College jointly sandwich Chapel Street, providing an opportunity for increased business from college students. He added that residential units, as opposed to offices, have increased in New Haven in recent years, which may also encourage restaurant growth because of greater demand for food outside lunchtime.

Ortwein said that the Town Green Special Service District has worked to create a new retail market report to help businesses find information about downtown New Haven. She added that nationally, American cities are seeing a trend of increased entertainment and food establishments.

Rizzo, on the other hand, called these new restaurants “just the natural progression of what goes on in downtown New Haven.”

There are 56 Zagat-rated restaurants in New Haven.

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